It often appears that standard medical treatment for chronic pain seems inadequate (Turk, Wilson, & Cahana, 2011). It is seems all too common that frustrated patients seek costly treatments without any significant relief. In addition, there are not many pain treatments that have minimal adverse side effects. I am not aware of any other option for managing pain with fewer adverse effects than hypnosis. Human beings for centuries across diverse cultural settings have used hypnosis in various forms and guises to treat every type of imaginable pain (Pintar & Lynn, 2008).
Recently, there has been compelling empirical evidence suggesting both the efficacy and biological underpinnings of hypnotic analgesia. Research has shown hypnosis to be more effective than placebos and that it has measurable effects across various regions of the brain involved with processing pain (Barabasz & Barabasz, 2008; Oakley, 2008; Oakley & Halligan, 2010; Spiegel, Bierre, & Rootenberg, 1989). Early research on hypnotic analgesia primarily focused on acute pain: for examples, pain induced in a laboratory setting or pain experienced during medical procedures (Chaves, 1994) (Ewin, 1986). However, recently there has been dramatic increases in research focusing on the efficacy of hypnosis for managing chronic pain (Montgomery, DuHamel, & Redd, 2000; Stoelb, Molton, Jensen, & Patterson, 2009; Tomé- Pires & Miró, 2012).
Two general findings emerge from these studies. Both have clinical and theoretical relevance. First, there is a high degree of variability in individuals’ responses to hypnotic analgesia. Second, and interestingly, the benefits of hypnosis for managing chronic pain go far beyond pain relief. This is regardless of the individual’s unique response to hypnotic analgesia.
For example, Anderson, Basker and Dalton (1975) studied 47 patients with migraine headaches. The patients were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group received six or more sessions of hypnosis with instructions and encouragement to practice self-hypnosis daily for the 12 months of the study. The second group received a traditional pharmacological intervention for 12 months. Interestingly, during the last three months of the study, 44% of the participants in hypnosis group reported a “complete remission” of migraines while only 13% of the participants in the pharmacological group reported the same result.
Hypnosis interventions can produce a substantial reduction in the average experienced pain intensity. This can be maintained for up to 12 months or more for some, but not all patients. This is the issue of hypnotizability. Hypnotizability is a term used to describe an individual’s tendency, trait, talent, or ability to respond positively to a variety of hypnotic suggestions. Researchers use standardized test to measure hypnotizability and this tendency, trait, talent, or ability may explain the variability in individual response. Still there is compelling clinical evidence to suggest that hypnotizability is weakly associated with successful hypnotic intervention for managing chronic pain (Patterson & Jensen, 2003).
Curiously, a significantly large portion of patients who received hypnotic interventions to manage chronic pain reported that they continued practice the self-hypnosis skills they were taught during the various studies regardless of whether or not they had achieved a “complete remission” result (Jensen, Barber, Romano, Hanley, et al., 2009; Jensen, Barber, Romano, Molton, et al., 2009). They reported that they experienced temporary pain relief while they listened to audio recordings of the hypnosis sessions or they practiced self-hypnosis on their own. According to the studies participants, other non-pain-related benefits of hypnosis interventions included improved positive affect, relaxation, and increased energy. Even when the hypnotic treatment did not result in significant pain relief, almost all participants reported some benefit, such as improved sleep, increased sense of overall calmness and well-being, or reduced stress.
I cannot tell you at this point which of these benefits you would experience if you choose to learn self-hypnosis to manage your chronic pain … but wouldn’t you like you to find out?
I am located in Ojai Ventura County and I see hypnotherapy clients from the area including Camarillo, Santa Paula, Fillmore, and Santa Barbara. I am also available for hypnotherapy/hypnosis phone sessions and remote hypnotherapy/hypnosis remote sessions. As a cancer survivor, I have personally practiced hypnosis and mindfulness to get through this difficult and painful period in my life. Please feel free to call me at (805) 637-4263 or email for more information.
Anderson, J., Basker, M., & Dalton, R. (1975). Migraine and hypnotherapy. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 23, 48–58.
Barabasz, A., & Barabasz, M. (2008). Hypnosis and the brain. In M. Nash & A. Barnier (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of hypnosis (pp. 337–363). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Chaves, J. (1994). Recent advances in the application of hypnosis to pain management. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 37(2), 117–129.
Ewin, DM. (1986). Emergency room hypnosis for the burned patient. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 29(1),7–12.
Jensen, MP., Barber, J., Romano, JM., Hanley, MA., Raichle, KA., Molton, IR., Patterson, DR. (2009). Effects of self- hypnosis training and EMG biofeedback relaxation training on chronic pain in persons with spinal- cord injury. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 9(57),239–268.
Jensen, MP., Barber, J., Romano, JM., Molton, IR., Raichle, KA., Osborne, TL., Patterson, DR. (2009). A comparison of self-hypnosis versus progressive muscle relaxation in patients with multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 57(2), 198–221.
Montgomery, GH., DuHamel, KN., Redd, WH. (2000). A meta-analysis of hypnotically induced analgesia: How effective is hypnosis? International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 48,138– 153.
Oakley, DA. (2008) Hypnosis, trance and suggestion: Evidence from neuroimaging. In: M. Nash & A. Barnier (Eds.) The Oxford handbook of hypnosis: Theory, research and practice (pp. 365-392). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Oakley, DA., Halligan, PW. (2010). Psychophysiological foundations of hypnosis and suggestion. In: S. Lynn, J. Rhue & I. Kirsch (eds.) Handbook of clinical hypnosis (pp. 79-117). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Patterson DR., Jensen MP. (2003) Hypnosis and clinical pain. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 495–521.
Pintar, J., Lynn, SJ. (2008). Hypnosis: A brief history. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Spiegel D., Bierre P., Rootenberg J. (1989). Hypnotic alteration of somatosensory perception. American Journal of Psychiatry, 146(6), 749–754.
Stoelb BL., Molton IR., Jensen M., Patterson DR. (2009). The efficacy of hypnotic analgesia in adults: A review of the literature. Contemporary Hypnosis, 26, 24–39.
Tomé-Pires C., Miró J. (2012) Hypnosis for the management of chronic and cancer procedure-related pain in children. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 60, 432–457.